HISTORY, ROMANCE AND...CATS!
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a vet by day and author of intelligent historical fiction by night. Grace is an avid reader and believes that smart people need to read romance - as an antidote to the modern world!
Grace is also obsessed by all things feline.
The Sinking of the Mary Rose: by guest author, Judith Arnopp
I'm delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp, historical fiction author, to my blog. I've read three of Judith's books (The Winchester Goose, The Concubine's Kiss, and now Intractable Heart) and can heartily recommend them to readers of well-written historical fiction. With impeccable research, Judith's writing immerses you in the Tudor period and excels at making the motivation of the characters believable.
Today, Judith shares a post about the sinking of the Tudor warship, the Mary Rose (see excerpt at the end of this post to read the scene in Intractable Heart). Anyhow, enough from me - let me hand over to Judith.
Grace x PS For more Mary Rose info click the link.
On July 19th 1545, with the loss
of more than 400 lives, the royal flagship The Mary Rose sank beneath the
waves, settled into the silt of the Solent and became history. Four hundred
years later, in 1982, when archaeologists successfully raised her from the
seabed, I was watching. I may have been glued to the television screen 70 miles
away from Portsmouth but, in my heart, I was there with the team, experiencing
one of the most profound moments of my life.
In the intervening years I have
visited the museum several times and closely followed the Mary Rose Trust in
its unstinting efforts to salvage not just the wreck, but the thousands of
artefacts found alongside it. For the
past nineteen years the timbers of the wreck have been constantly sprayed with
polyethylene glycol to preserve and reinforce the structure, but now the time
has come to turn off the spray and begin drying her out. It is also time for
the wreck and its artefacts to be brought back together and housed in one
The Mary Rose is the only 16th
century warship on display anywhere in the world. She offers an invaluable
resource for historians, illustrating in minute detail, life as it was on a
Tudor warship. Artefacts that, in normal circumstances, would have been lost to
us have been preserved for 500 years in the Solent silt. They can now be viewed
in situ in a new museum which opens in Portsmouth in May 2013. Visitors to the
museum will be able to walk along a central gangway and view the original wreck
on one side while, on the other side, see a reconstruction of how experts
believe the interior of the Mary Rose may have looked on the day she sank.
Mary Rose - gun furniture
Henry VIII’s obsession with
France left England a legacy of isolation in Europe, religious conflict,
inflation, national penury and social upheaval, and what little gains he did
make were short lived. In the 1550’s Boulogne was given back to France, and in
1558 Calais, England’s last possession on the continent, was lost. Today we can
see that the one positive outcome of his war with France was the Mary Rose.
What was undoubtedly a huge loss to Henry VIII that day but she has now become
a gift to us as a nation, and every single person who went down with her did
not die in vain. They are not forgotten. The wreck of the Mary Rose provides
precious insight into life on a Tudor warship, an aspect of 16th century life
that would otherwise be completely closed to us.
Mary Rose - carpentry tools
It is not just the salvaged
cannon or the armour and weapons that are invaluable, it is the small, everyday
things. They have become the greatest treasures. There is no thrill on this
earth like looking at a handful of dice last thrown by a sailor in 1545, or a
leather shoe last worn by a man defending our shores from French invasion five
hundred years ago, or a nit comb still thick with 16th century lice. To me, and
other peculiar people like me, those things are rarer, and more thrilling, than
the crown jewels.
When I came to write my novel Intractable
Heart; a story of Katheryn Parr I could not omit the tragedy of the
Mary Rose. We do not know for certain if Katheryn was with Henry as he watched
his favourite ship sink but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that she
was. Below is an excerpt from the novel depicting the imagined scene.
19th July 1545 – Southsea, Portsmouth
points a finger, indicating where the ships should go next. Beside him,
ignoring the squeals of the women, Charles Brandon nods. It is as if the men are witnessing a life
sized game of chess, as if real lives, real husbands aren’t at risk. I remember
Henry explaining that there are more than four hundred and fifty men aboard
each ship. I try to imagine the squash, the stench and the squalor. It must be
like hell on earth.
stands proud, hands on hips, his demeanour belying his failing breath, his
crippled leg, his lack of virility. He looks out across the sea, his papery
cheeks growing pink in the sea air, the white feather in his cap fluttering
like a stricken gull. Slowly, the pride of the English navy turns to offer a
It is one of
those briny coastal days when the wind is sporadic, with intermittent breezes
that extinguish the warmth of the sun. A sudden gust, seemingly from nowhere,
lifts the King’s cloak, making him shudder.
walking over my grave,” he laughs as he wraps it closer to his bulk. He glances
at me and I smile dutifully, convincing him of my adoration. And, engaged as we
are in this moment of marital insincerity, we both miss the precise moment when
the Mary Rose falters.
When we turn
back to the panoramic scene, the action is stilled; the flags on the great ship
snap and flutter. Like a painting the scene is frozen momentarily, the great
ship balanced on the cusp of fate. As if in premonition the king holds his
breath, grabs my arm as my heart falters and I send up a prayer.
But, in a
heartbeat, the ship is heeling over, cries of terror as her open gun ports fill
with water. We stand amazed as the first sailors fall from the rigging to splash
into the sea. On the snapping breeze the screams of the stricken men are borne
toward us and my husband’s prowess instantly shrinks. His breath whistles from
his lungs, his grip is tight and painful on my wrist.
transfixed as the massive cannon break free, bursting through the sides of the
ship, surging into the waves. All around us people are screaming, shouting
orders; a crowd surges toward the dockside, the air clamouring with terrified
On board The Mary Rose the tilting deck is a chaos
of fleeing men. They are screaming, leaping from assured death to certain
drowning. As they run, they cast off their clothing, kick off their shoes in
the futile hope that, although they cannot swim, they will float when the
swiftly swelling sea engulfs them.
The end is
quick. Henry and I watch in horrified silence while around us on the
battlement, women are weeping, wailing, praying. Charles Brandon and Anthony
Browne are shouting, waving their arms. Below us in the precinct men are
fighting to mount terrified horses, although it is too late for fruitful
action; there is nothing to be done.
It is far
too late to prevent disaster. Henry knows it in his heart. I know it in my own.
Now, so quickly, the only visible sign of Henry’s favourite ship is the top of
the mast jutting from the water. Like a great white jelly fish the mainsail is
foundering in the waves and only a few survivors are left, clinging to the
fighting tops. The balmy sea is littered with the wreckage, and the remnants of
his fighting crew are flotsam.
suddenly aware of someone sobbing and slowly I turn in a daze to find Mary
Carew fallen to her knees. It is only then I remember her husband. Before I can
move to comfort her Henry stumps forward and, throwing down his stick, he lifts
her up and draws her into his arms.
He wraps his
arms about her and over the top of her head his eyes meet mine. There are great
shining tears on his lashes, dropping onto his white and sagging cheeks.
there,” he croaks, caressing her shoulder awkwardly with his jewelled hand.
can he say?
Intractable Heart is available now on Kindle
please click here to read a sample.
The paperback edition will be
available toward the end of the summer.